Skip to main content

« Back


Food Tricks:Why 99 Percent of Ingredients can be withheld from labels and It’s Legal!

Food Tricks:Why 99 Percent of Ingredients can be withheld from labels and It’s Legal!

By: Terrence Black/On Fitness Magazine

Food Tricks

Why 99 Percent of Ingredients can be withheld from labels and It’s Legal!

Would if disturb you not to know what’s in your food? How about it some of the ingredients were potentially harmful? You may think you’re fully enlightened by the labeling laws and the more extensively expanded requirements on labeling that have come out in recent years.

However, there are currently loopholes in the Food and Drug Administration’s handling of labels that allow companies to avoid specifically listing what’s in food. Most people assume that the label states what’s in the food.

However, if some element, or a variety of elements, is exempt from this listing requirement, then you in fact may not know what’s in the product. Here are a few areas where a company can legally withhold items from the label.

Trade Secrets

Trade secrets are one place where a company can bury things and you won’t have any idea what they are. The FDA allows companies to classify items that the company terms a “trade secret” in a general manner.

The FDA, by the way, is not the only government agency to allow such latitude. For example, the Security and Exchange Commission grants hedge funds a wide swath of room to operate, and currently doesn’t require the hedge fund to publicly state the stocks it is buying or shorting since it is a “trade secret.”

Trade secret exemptions also crop up in non-food areas such as cosmetics, etc., where a company can hide what they have in their product from the public eye. Food items are just one of many areas where the “trade secret” card is played.

Other Ingredients

How do you know if a food product contains some of these “trade secret” hidden elements? One clue is the term “and other ingredients.” When you see a label with this, you’re probably looking at something covered by a trade secret exemption.

The FDA states: The law allows a manufacturer to ask the FDA to grant “trade secret” status under very limited circumstances and after careful review of the manufacturer’s data. The manufacturer must prove that the ingredient is not well known in the industry. If trade secret status is granted, the ingredient does not have to be listed on the label, but the list must end with the [phrase “and other ingredients”

So, if you see the term “and other ingredients” on a food label you know that something unknown resides therein. What is it?

This trade secret exemption allows companies to not only omit listing what the item is, it also give them the freedom to omit the quantity of the item as well. That’s a huge window of opportunity to operate in. The consumer has no idea what it is and has no idea how much of it there is.

(McDonalds and Burger King, Among Others, Sugar-Coat their Fries So They Will Turn Golden-Brown.)

Small Business Exemption

Another exemption from labeling is allowed for a small business. The FDA states: The nutrition labeling exemptions or low-volume products… apply if the person claiming the exemption employs fewer than an average of 100 full-time equivalent employees and fewer than 100,000 units of that product are sold in the United States in a 12 month period.

If a company falls into this area, it is granted the exemption from nutrition labeling. They too can omit putting the precise items on the label. Again, the consumer has no way of knowing what’s really in the food.

Other Exemptions

There are other exemptions as well, or allowances that function as exemptions. Consider this input from the FDA website: Foods which are served or sold for use only in restaurants and other establishments in which food is served for immediate consumption are exempt from nutrition labeling.

And there is a small packaging exemption from labeling also: Small Packages (less than 12 sq. in. total surface area available to bear labeling) may be printed with a telephone number or an address to obtain nutrition information. This exemption (using a telephone number or address in place of the Nutrition Facts label) is permitted only if there are no nutrient content claims or other nutrition information on the product label or in labeling and advertising.

Active or Passive

With any of a variety of exemptions from food labeling, how do you fight back? After all, if some items aren’t even on the label, you’re involved in a guessing game, and guessing games are never solid grounds for good health. You could send a nice letter to the company and ask what’s really in the product. Good luck with that.

The best way is to avoid foods that leave telltale clues that they are not listing everything that goes into the product. The biggest hint is the “and other ingredients.” Why not simply list the elements as they really are instead of putting them under the umbrella of “other ingredients”?

“Other ingredients” could be virtually anything. The best response is to avoid this food altogether. Other terms that should set off a red flag are “natural flavors” and “flavorings.” Anything could be a flavor—chemicals create “flavors.”

You have to be very active and very consistent to avoid eating trash. An active stance is an absolute necessity. Of you’re passive about your food in today’s microwave and fast food culture, then you’re virtually guarantying that you will most likely eat some strange and unhealthy items.

Chemicals, preservatives and other semi-toxic garbage that should never be digested by a human slips in unnoticed if you’re not vigilant. In essence, you have to act as your food regulator to insure that you stay healthy. There are still too many gaps in the FDA’s coverage to rely on what’s in the market today. Just don’t buy if!

Terrence Black

On Fitness Magazine

Contact Us